Business Perspectives

Good hard work can help you feel better

For Wichita's 28,000 unemployed, a thankful spirit might prove as elusive as a job offer this Thanksgiving, but a short history lesson may offer encouragement.

Recent studies show that depression caused by the loss of a job or the foreclosure of a home may account for a suicide rate two to four times higher for the unemployed than for their employed peers. For some, the hardship and feeling of failure are just too much to bear.

Our Puritan ancestors knew hardship. Facing religious persecution and then the brutal elements of a wild new land, they grew into a stalwart and hardworking people, giving birth to what would later be known as the Puritan or Protestant work ethic. Born of intense struggle, this ethic, and the Puritan mindset behind it, might prove instructive for tough times.

For one thing, the Puritans believed that all work was good work. Medieval tradition elevated sacred work, like being a monk, above secular work, like farming. The Puritans refused this idea, holding that all work, done for God, was good work, that the farmer's work was, therefore, as holy as the preacher's.

Today, the unemployed executive may feel it is eating humble pie to take a position of lesser importance or pay. However, holding to the scriptural call in Ecclesiastes, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might," the Puritans would disagree. They believed all work was intrinsically valuable. Whether developing software or cleaning office buildings, treating patients or flipping burgers, brokering stocks or driving trucks, white collar or blue, all work, done with the right motive, can be valuable.

Reformer Martin Luther, who strongly influenced Puritan thought, taught that God gave each person a vocation, a "call," with accompanying talents and abilities. The modern-day strengths movement unknowingly stands on the shoulders of this particular giant. Myers-Briggs, Leading From Your Strengths, and Strengths Finder, to name a few, offer personality assessments that can help the unemployed discover just what that God-given vocation might be. Life and career coaches, too, can help unearth gifts, making way for a second career act that may prove more fulfilling than the first.

Time is the ultimate luxury, or so the saying goes. The unemployed indeed have time: time to worry, time to brood, time to rewrite the resume for the zillionth time, but that time is soured by fear of the future. Even the hardest worker can feel stuck in what feels a purgatory between happily employed and miserably inert, landing square in the center of depression.

The Puritans hated idleness, and even though the idleness of unemployment is involuntary, their cure might help. Paid or not, the mere act of physical labor has a calming effect on a worried mind. The Puritan cure for modern depression would certainly involve physical labor: Fix the fence. Organize the garage. Get at that woodpile. If idleness is indeed the devil's workshop, good old-fashioned work might be God's.

Modern history books inaccurately peg the Puritans as a stuffy, uptight people who simply suffered their way through life, but this view does injustice to the original Puritans. They liked sex. They liked recreation. They liked music, colorful clothing, and sports. Yes, they were strict. Yes, they were serious. But they also worked for more than just a paycheck, knowing that man's worth comes not from how much money he makes or the title of his job, but from his service to God and to his fellow man. Perhaps if we adopted a bit of this mindset, the loss of a job would not equate to failure and the depression that often accompanies it, but, like the Puritans believed, simply as a bump on the road called life.